Monday, May 30, 2011

City of Cyclists: Urban Planning, and Bike Infrastructure in Tucson

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After a week of riding under my belt, I've been thinking a lot about urban planning and how Tucson has incorporated bicycle infrastructure into its city design.

The obvious thing that strikes me when I go out for a ride is the amount of money Tucson has invested in its bicycle infrastructure. Tucson has massive bike lanes that run adjacent to Tucson's generally massive car lanes. The generous bike lane makes riding on even the busiest roads somewhat comfortable.

But most of these bike lanes were not remotely on the radar of city pooh-bahs when the City of Tucson was zoned and settled. So, the initial, albeit late, investment in bicycle infrastructure must have been fairly expensive, and somewhat painful.

The image below more or less typifies the bike lanes on major streets in the northern part of Tucson.

*Note: Photo below courtesy of Bruce's Bike Blog.

Tucson Foothills Bike Lane

Sticker shock, notwithstanding, investing in bicycle infrastructure actually makes a lot of sense for urban areas. One practical, and cost-effective solution is to put some of the bloated four-lane roads on a "road diet" by converting them to two-lane roads with a center turn lane, and adding bike lanes on either side. This video explains the process in more detail. For cities in dire financial straits (viz., most cities), the idea is worth considering.

RoadDiet

The second thing that strikes me about cycling is the notion of connectivity in urban planning. As you can see in the bike map below (full map available here), Tucson has done a phenomenal job of connecting the city from the east to the west. On the map, Green lanes are specially designated bike routes, or bikes only paths, while pink routes are streets with a shoulder of the road doubling as a bike lane.

Tucson Bike Map

Unfortunately, Tucson's connectivity is more or less limited by its east/west orientation. If you look at the map again, you will find very few green routes that run north/south past the Rillito River. If you live in the northern part of the city, there are precious few good options for making the trek southward.

I've managed to mitigate this by bumping along neighborhood routes until I hit the bike paths near the Rillito Race Track Park, but the difference in bicycle infrastructure between the north and south parts of the city are astonishing. As Tucson seeks to grow its bike-riding base, an obvious way to do this is to expand the number of bike routes, and paths running between the northern and southern parts of the city.

One final thing that strikes me about cycling is the demographic subset of people it attracts. Most of the people I pass on my rides around town are either students, avid cyclists, or people from extremely low income brackets. There is relatively little variation day to day.

Outside of lower income riders, those who bike are almost uniformly caucasian, and mostly male.

This makes for an interesting motley of people using Tucson's bike infrastructure, and leaves out an entire demographic of middle-class riders, and women that the city, presumably, wants to attract to riding. Last week, for example, I was riding along the Rillito bike path, and I came up behind a lycra-clad cyclist sporting an expensive Fuji road bike. He dutifully padded along behind a homeless guy on a Mongoose special from Walmart - all while I pedaled behind both of them en route to the school. It was a odd clash of cultures, in a democratizing sort of way. For various reasons, we were simply all enjoying a morning ride.

I think a part of the demographic disparity among riders may be accounted for in my discussion of connectivity above. A better connected system makes for a more used system, and Tucson hasn't made biking a feasible reality for people living in entire pockets of the city, many of whom would fall into the middle and upper middle classes. But really this is only a part of the explanation.

It may also be that there's simply a perception among segments of the population that bike riding is just for recreation, or merely a form of transportation to take if there isn't another one available. Assuming this view is true of a bulk of the city's population, the lot has to fall on cycling advocates and city governments to promote alternative transportation and 'mainstream' it into the transportation system itself.

Interestingly, the Danes have managed to do this quite well in their largest, and capital city Copenhagen. The video below dubs Copenhagen the "City of Cyclists" and from the looks of it, they may well be right. Scores of people, from all walks of life, appear in the clip, using the city's bike infrastructure. Not only is the city well connected, but it has also somehow managed to capture the city's cycling imagination.

I'm not sure that Tucson will ever be like Copehagen (that's probably a good thing), but there are certainly opportunities for the city to make itself more bicycle friendly. It's been a interesting first week of riding.

Copenhagen - City of Cyclists from Copenhagenize on Vimeo.

 

Friday, May 27, 2011

MapMyRide App in Tucson

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I took a late afternoon bike ride to my wife's office down at the Tucson Medical Center, located at Craycroft and Grant.

Before I left to brave the 100 degree temps here in Tucson, I opted to download the MapMyRide App from the Apple App Store just to test it out. My expectations were fairly low, but at $1.99, I was in 'what-the-hell' mode anyway.

Turns out, not only does the MapMyRide app allow you to accurately keep track of time, mileage, and the like, but it also plays back a 3D video of your trip, and allows you to upload your various routes for future reference.

As a note of caution, make sure your phone is fully charged before you use it. The app uses your iPhone's GPS tracking system to plot your course, but as any AT&T customer knows, GPS will drain your battery life.

If you're phone is insufficiently charged, you may find yourself without a cell phone by the time you reach your destination. For example, my phone was at full charge when I left the house. Some thirty minutes later, it was down to a 50% charge.

Still, it was a good use of a buck, ninety-nine, and proved astonishingly accurate in helping me map my route. Every little turn, every little acceleration, and deceleration that I made was reflected on the final, '3-D video.' Just be mindful for trips of more than a half-hour - you may need to recharge your cell phone, once you've arrived at your destination.

Unrelated, but interestingly enough, my Schwinn, 17-Function bike computer (available on Amazon here) was spot on in recording my route, coming in with less than a 1/10th of a mile difference from the MapMyRide App. At less than $20, it wasn't a bad investment after all - even if stop lights seem to give it fits.

Below is a 3D re-enactment of my trip to TMC this afternoon. The video is courtesy of Google, and optimized for Safair, and Firefox browers with the Google Earth Plugin.

Unlike the Tucson weather, the app is too cool. (Sorry - I can't resist the terrible pun).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Song of the Week: Bella Notte

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I'm only a bit embarrassed to select the following as my song of the week. Taken from Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and reincarnated this week by the mighty Fox Network's Glee, our song of the week underscores the inner sappiness of yours truly.

Bella Notte first graced audiences ears in the 1955 animated classic Lady and the Tramp. The nostalgic among us may recall the music and the scene where Lady and the Tramp share their first kiss over spaghetti.

Immediately, the music and the image became iconic, setting unrealistic romantic expectations for generations.

Despite, it's rather famous provenance, the song has not enjoyed great commercial success. A part of the song's history is a protracted legal battle in which recording artist Peggy Lee sued Disney over the rights to the song when it began marketing VHS cassettes in the late 80s. It's really a shame. A cover of the song by Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra would have been amazing.

As if to make up for is scant performance history, the song made an appearance recently on the hit show Glee as a part of the series season finale set in New York, New York. The scene in the program tries to capture a similar romantic vignette between the punctilious Rachel Berry and former star quarterback, now glee club member Finn Hudson. For those who care, Rollingstone has a summary of the episode here.

I've only seen two episodes of Glee, but the cast's performance of the song was just terrific. The music is romantic just as a New York evening should be, while the lyrics typify a forthright ode to enchantment itself. Sung by a men's quartet, everything from the harmony to the tempo is perfect about this song. When the performance concluded, I had cold chills. It's just that stunning.

I've embedded the Glee performance of the song below. A music only version can be found here, and here. Lyrics follow after the jump. Enjoy!

Bella Notte
As performed by the Cast of Glee

Oh, this is the night
It's a beautiful night
And we call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely bella notte

Side by side with your loved one
You'll find enchantment here

The night will weave it's magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

This is the night
It's a beautiful night
And they call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely belle notte

Side by side with your loved one
You'll find enchantment here

The night will weave it's magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

Monday, May 23, 2011

First Bike Ride in Tucson

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I just completed my first spin around Tucson on the new bike. Seeing as it's a balmy 93 degrees today with a chance of rain, one might rightly question the wisdom of such a trip.

Most of my morning was spent fighting with the u-lock mount on the Kryptonite lock I bought. Once this was completed, I did battle with the bike computer I picked up to track my stats. The remainder of my morning was spent selecting a route and praying I didn't have a flat.

Interestingly, the challenging part of the route was the straightaway a long Mountain Avenue. For those not from Tucson, the street is a fairly wide boulevard with a huge bike lane on either side. It's also incredibly flat so there was a lot of opportunity for me to build my calf and hamstring muscles, pedaling for some 3.5 miles.

Seeing as the most active thing I've done in months is play Call of Duty, I was naturally pretty exhausted by the time I reached the Student Union.

Tory s Bike Route

I didn't have the courage to snap photos along the route, but I did capture a few stills of my stats once I sat down here in the Student Union.They'll be laughable to anyone who is an experienced rider. But given that it was my first ride in Tucson, and given that I had no idea where I was going, it didn't turn out too bad.

I'm alive at any rate. All's well that ends well.The trip took only about twice as long as it would have by car. Door to door, the whole it took me 53 minutes, this presumably includes having to stop twice along the way to consult Google Maps.

Photo May 23 1 21 48 PM My top speed was 19.4 miles per hours. I achieved this feat as I descended a one of the many scary hills in between Skyline and River Road. Only a couple of hills were scary. Mostly, the foothill neighborhoods were just confusing. I may need to rethink this leg of the trip.

Photo May 23 1 25 27 PM The route covered some 8.9 miles from my front door to the bike racks outside the Union. Photo May 23 1 22 13 PM In all, not a bad afternoon. I plan to get some research done now, before making the trek north. I enjoyed the bike's simple functionality, and the fact that I can take a very purposefully trip on it within the time frame it would normally take me otherwise.

The hard part, of course, will be the trip home, which is basically all up hill...

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Zombie Apocalypse

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ZombiesWith some religious fanatics predicting the end of the world tomorrow, the cheeky bastards at the CDC added a set of helpful tips for dealing with the inevitable "Zombie Apocalypse" that follows.

The site reads:

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

Apparently, the tips were so popular, it crashed the CDC website.

[Link]

Personally, I think this basic list would have been more helpful for dealing with zombies, but I suppose water and non-perishable foods are a good thing to have on hand as well.

Too funny.

Zombie warn

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When Socialists Embrace Capitalism

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As if you couldn't tell - when a socialist United States Senator gets caught selling a book at corporate behemoth (gasp) Barnes & Noble by a free market crusader, hilarity ensues.

The result is a wonderfully awkward conversation, chock-full of stuttering, pauses, and logically inconsistent backpedaling. Here, the Human Events 'reporter' questions Sen. Sanders about his plans for the book's profits (assuming there are any), and presses him to dedicate his copy of the book to "Capitalism."

To his credit, Sen. Sanders obliged the reporter with a signature to Capitalism, even giving it his 'best wishes'.

Too funny.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I Chose to Cycle

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After many weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to take the plunge and give commuting by bicycle a shot.

The move is purely pragmatic, so let not your hearts be troubled. I won't be buying organic or driving a hybrid anytime soon. Neither action will save the planet anyway.

Photo May 18 2 36 33 PM

So Why Cycle?

With gasoline, nigh, $4 per gallon, and but a lone pick up truck between me and the wife, cycling seemed like a reasonably inexpensive alternative form of transportation. Whether this proves true is a separate matter. More on this later.

I realize that I'm not alone in this regard. According to USA Today, bike sales are booming across the country, while even the fattest, and laziest among us succumb to the evil that is big oil.

Interestingly, this sales spike translates into only a modest increase in actual cycling. But at least we haven't gone the way of the Brits. One in six of their poor, little prats can't ride a bicycle at all. God bless America.

A second reason I wanted to give cycling the old college try is a matter of simple exercise. After spending the past few weeks on exams, and traveling, it's safe to say I could stand to "get back in shape" - which is really just a polite way of saying that I need to lose some weight.

The problem is that I'm generally not fond of exercise. While I am a thumb warrior on Call of Duty (5th prestige!), my L.A. Fitness membership has gone unused since about November. Being the reasonable chap that I am, I figured if I can incorporate exercise/fitness into my routine, then I might be less inclined to hate it. Enter cycling, and my seven mile commute.

UA Bike Path

Last, I am curious to see what all the fuss is about. Tucson has dropped a considerable chunk of change on its bicycle infrastructure. But, as Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists noted, much of this is used by lycra-clad cyclists, sporting $3,000 bikes. And poor students. Given that my own foray is somewhat by choice (like my lycra-clad friends), and somewhat of necessity (like my colleagues at the U of A), I'm curious to see how friendly Tucson, and its drivers are to cyclists who ride for commuting purposes rather than recreation.

To be sure, I realize the severe weaknesses of this plan.

For starters, this is the hottest time of the year to begin two-wheeling around town. In fact, I have it on good authority that there are coals in hell next to the Devil himself (or herself) that are cooler than Tucson is during July.

Second, I've never done this before. Given that local cyclists have annual "Rides of Silence" for cyclists who have been killed by cars, maybe Tucson isn't the safest place to learn how to commute by bicycle.

Last, I'm not sure that cycling is actually a less expensive way to get around town. At least not so far.

But life is what happens while you're doing something else, and the benefits seem to out weight the costs, so away we go.

My Bike

Readers may recall that I had a lengthy dilemma in deciding whether to bike at all (see here, and here), and ultimately a separate dilemma regarding what bike to buy (see here).

I wanted something that looked vintage and minimalist, that could navigate the hilly terrain near my house, that could handle a 7+ mile commute - all on the budget of a poor graduate student.

After visits to local bike shops, and BICAS, I discovered that the nice bikes were out of my price range, while the rebuilt bikes did not meet my terrain and distance needs.

Brief aside, this is really quite a good argument for some entrepreneur to open up a used bike shop, selling refurbished, reasonably priced bikes. I'm not sure I'm that person. But for those looking to make money, the idea is yours, gratis.

Super Pawn

In the end, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that my journey took me to Cash America's Super Pawn Shop where a source from BICAS told me that they had road bikes for sale at half-off.

The pawn shop seemed a bit sketchy. But, being the cheap bastard that I am, even this did not subsume my desire to find a bargain.

And, sure enough, I found my bike nestled among a throng of bicycles outside the shop, all marked at half-off. For the curious, they also sell gold!

My steed ended up being a 2009 Schwinn Fastback with Shimano derailleurs and brakes, and a super light, aluminum frame. It cost me all of $67 thanks to the good folks at Super Pawn. The bike normally retails for $432.08 on Amazon, and $499.99 on Ebay, meaning I saved either $365.08 or $432.99 - but who's counting.

Schwinn Fastback 2009

What makes me question the cost effectiveness of cycling, however, is the money I spent getting my bike road-ready.

I should say from the outset, that I am not complaining about the actual prices. I took my bike immediately from the pawn shop to There and Back Bicycles to let owner Steve Vihel take a shot at fixing it up. Steve did a great job, and charged eminently reasonable prices for all of his services. But the bike just needed lots of fixing up.

The biggest cost was an Velo Orange Saddle, made of Australian cowhide, with a chrome-plated rail finish. The saddle, its attendant care products, seat cover, seat leash, and the brown bar wrap I bought for the handlebars to match the saddle ran $125.96.

Saddle model 1 1This was, absolutely, not a necessity. While I settled for a newer road bike, I still wanted something that looked somewhat like a classic, vintage bike. As you can see from the living room photo at the top, I think it turned out quite well.

The total cost for a mechanical tune-up, and bike maintenance, ended up being less than $200 - and this included the cost of a new tire, tune-up, new cables, new tubes, housing, installation, and labor. I also had two, additional final expenses for a Kryptonite Kryptolok Mini U Lock, and a 7ft Sunlite Cable. After all, it would be a shame to have my bike stolen after all of Steve's effort.

My complaint about the cost effectiveness is really about the upfront cost that I had to spend on the bike. The initial purchase was $67, but with the saddle and maintenance factored in, the entire bike ended up costing some $366.99. In sum, my quibble is that the maintenance costs, and upgrades I made were 5x's the price that I originally paid for the bike.

But, even this expenditure was less than what I would have paid retail for a brand new Schwinn on Amazon, and a new bike wouldn't be nearly so cool. Although, I still need to buy a helmet, a mini air pump, extra tubes in case of a flat, and lights.

Summary

I'm still pressed to finish my exams, having left in the middle of them to return to Oklahoma and be with my sister last week. So, I hope to take the bike for a proper spin over the weekend - once I acquire a helmet, lights, etc.

Right now, I'm a little disappointed in the upfront costs associated with cycling. I was elated to spend $67 on the bike. I was less than elated at spending five times that amount to get it road-ready. Maybe I will earn back my investment over time?

Mostly, I am excited to see what it's like to commute around Tucson. I've spent the past few years mocking cyclists, and the past few weeks trying to learn basic traffic rules for bikes. It's been quite the turn around.

I guess I see this going two ways. I'll either love it - for all of the reasons people love bikes. Or I'll hate it - for all the reasons people hate bikes. I understand this isn't terribly insightful. But it does reflect that commuters are rarely ambivalent about sharing the road bicycles.

I assume this will be a running category of posts, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Handicapping the Western Conference Finals: OKC Thunder v. Dallas Mavericks

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OKCThunderAdmittedly, I've been a fairly dormant fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder for most of the NBA season. I attribute this (mostly) to the fact that OKC Thunder games are notoriously hard to come by here in Arizona.

But, after a recent trip to the Sooner State, I'm fully on the Thunder's playoffs bandwagon (or Sooner Schooner) that I started driving way back in 2006. Yes, for my money, the OKC Thunder are surely the heirs of the 1990s Chicago Bulls, while young Kevin Duran is clearly the latest incarnation of Michael Jordan himself.

The chattering class in Oklahoma city is, of course, also quite optimistic about the Thunder's prospects. I, on the other hand, am truthfully still a bit befuddled about the franchise's mascot.

Then again, I'm not nearly so pessimistic about the Thunder's prospects as the New York Times was cira. 2008. According to the NYT, Oklahoma is lucky to have running water and electricity. I suspect Paul Krugman's head would explode if he knew the internet had made its way to the Oklahoma hills. (Someone please, pass along the good word to Paul).

That said, and it's worth repeating, THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER ARE IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS!

Yes, you read that right.

  • Oklahoma City has an NBA basketball team.
  • Said team is in the Western Conference Finals!
  • Said team is one series away from competing against the Miami Heat for the World Championship.*
  • *N.B., does anyone honestly think the Bulls will pull this series out? No disrespect to Michael Jordan, but not even all the ghosts of-championships-past combined could stop LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

I won't try to 'out sports' the sports writers. A complete write-up of the series can be found at the link below. It's biased. Comes from an Oklahoma City Thunder blog. You'll forgive the indiscretion, hopefully. We don't feign objectivity around here - even if we do pride ourselves on rationality.

[Link]

Seeing as no sports fan is objective, yours truly is looking forward to a smash-mouth opening, tomorrow night. And for no other reason than arbitrariness, I'm picking the Thunder in six games.

Go Thunder!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lolcat of the Week

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Apologies readers for the relative paucity of posts over the past week. As this post indicates, I was in Oklahoma welcoming my first Nephew into the world. I'm glad to say that he is doing well, and that my sister is doing just fine too.

By way of update, the Lolcat of the Week below basically sums up my life for the next year or so. Classes here in Arizona have ended along with my year in residence at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law.

This summer will find me beginning work on my dissertation. With a bit of luck, I should walk with my doctorate of juridicial science next May.

Another interesting thing about this summer is that I plan to being work as a Research Fellow for Prof. Ray Austin of the the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program. I won't scoop his work, but former Justice Austin is working on an interesting historical project that should be a real contribution to the field.

I realize how vague that is on second blush, but I will try to post updates of the work as time goes by.

Having returned from Oklahoma late last night, it's clear the winds of change are blowing strong in the desert. Something about welcoming a baby Nephew drive home this reality even more. But I have much work to do.

As Robert Frost said,

And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

funny pictures - Thesis still not done, huh?
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pray for Huck

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Great website for Huckabee fans called,

prayforhuckabee.com.

Fans of the former governor set up the site, which allows supporters to pray with Huck as he considers a presidential bid.

I suppose the site (and Huck's endorsement of it), can be written off as political grandstanding.

But, assuming it is sincere (which I do), it strikes me as an eminently practical thing to do - even as one prays for President Obama, and our Nation's leadership generally.

HT: Real Clear Politics.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Huckabee's Path to the GOP Nomination

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The analysis comes from The New Republic, but Ed Kilgore ran a pretty solid piece all the same, detailing Gov. Mike Huckabee's path to the GOP Presidential nomination.

The most compelling part of the analysis follows:
But who knows? The man is a true phenomenon, and in a contest of personalities between Huckabee and Romney—or really, between Huckabee and anyone in the field—it would really be no contest at all.

[Link]
Too true. The rest of the field is about as interesting as reruns of Mama's Family.

Actually, Mama's Family is probably more interesting. Vicki Lawrence alone would be way more entertaining.

Regardless, the growing consensus seems to be that the GOP Nomination is Huck's to lose.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Some Thoughts About My Sister

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Photo May 10 5 35 40 AM

This morning finds me en route to home. My younger sister developed a condition in her pregnancy called preeclampsia, or toxemia, which has caused her blood pressure to spike, and caused her body to swell uncomfortably. While preeclampsia is not uncommon, her situation was severe enough that the doctors thought it wise to induce labor last night, more than a week ahead of her expected delivery date.

Given the relative precariousness of the situation, and the fact that this is her first child, I immediately booked a flight back to Oklahoma. What struck me about the situation was how easy it was to put aside my schedule, pack my bags and leave - thanks in no small part to my loving, and supportive wife, and the innate kindness of a close friend.

With my flight booked, my thoughts turned from the stress of final exams, to one fraught with worry about my kid sister who primarily communicates with me through text messages and triple word scores on "Words with Friends." She's good at that game. Very good.

That's life I suppose. Schedules, jobs, marriages, and now families have a knack for ebbing away the simplicity of relationship we had in our youth. Given how busy life can become, it's probably remarkable that we communicate at all.

But growing up in Oklahoma, the summers were endless. And with two working parents throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and with two doting grandparents, we only naturally spent most of our time together. The only obligation we ever had was to come in when Grandma called us for lunch. Or to be ready to go and hit the ponds for some fishing when Papa got off work. Aside from these, the hours were ours to while away. And we did. From chunking dirt clods at one another in our fields, to sword fighting (with actual sticks and the odd bayonet we could muster from the barn), to playing with our assortment of "action figures" and dolls, our afternoons and evenings were nothing if not carefree.

This is not to say that our childhood was all rosy. Our parents like many kids' parents from my generation fought and argued as we grew up. I distinctly remember nights where we just held each other while Mom and Dad bellowed from the other room. There was, of course, never any real violence. But to children, hearing Mom and Dad argue, was like listening to the earth fall apart around us - kind of like the State of California in the film 2012.

But somewhere between the Oklahoma summers and nights huddled together, my sister and I developed a sibling bond that only siblings can have. My youngest sister and I have something similar, but with Andrea it was always different because we, more or less, grew up together. And even while I navigated the frustrations of high school (brief aside, is there any other way to describe high school than frustrating?), and she navigated the rigors of junior high, we slowly began to drift apart. We had our own friends all of a sudden, and playing with He-Men and X-men in the backyard suddenly didn't seem quite so cool.

And then college happened.

After spending years in veritable, close proximity, all of a sudden, I was thrust 2,000 miles across the country, and my sister was left to the wilds of her own high school hell. Letters became increasingly infrequent. Emails once in a blue moon. And almost no text messages to speak of. This was, after all, the early 2000s, before the advent of unlimited text messaging packages, and before landline phones became an anachronism. Long-distance charges were very much a reality. But we did manage to send each other the odd "boob" message on our pagers. We were a bit older, but not necessarily more mature.

The funny thing about life is that, somehow, things tend to come full circle. As my misadventures with various girls became more frequent, and after a couple of ill-conceived moves across the eastern seaboard, my relationship with my sister began to, well, grow. All of a sudden, we were talking again. And really, things picked up as if there was no four year hiatus called college, and no year or so spent working in the urban jungle. We weren't playing with Micro-Machines and Polly Pockets anymore. But we were texting regularly, emailing more frequently, and calling once Verizon got its act together and started offering reasonable cell phone plans. Most importantly, whatever the medium, we talked.

And we talked about a lot of things. We talked about relationships. We talked about whether marriage was still a viable institution. We talked about our mutual, political love affair with Mike Huckabee. We talked about our parents, and our younger sister. We talked about how best to do damage control when the inevitable family conflicts arose. Over time, we talked about more serious topics, like our own marriages - as opposed to marriage as an abstract institution. We talked about jobs, and law school, and our hopes for the future. We talked about life.

So, last summer when she called to tell me she was engaged, and early last fall when she called to tell me she was pregnant, I got a little misty-eyed, knowing that my kid sister wasn't a kid anymore, but an amazing, beautiful, competent woman - who is now an amazing, beautiful competent wife and soon-to-be mother.

And so, when I received word that complications had developed, that the doctors were inducing labor, it was no surprise at all really that I dropped my finals, and my pocketbook to schedule the earliest possible flight to Oklahoma. That's just what a big brother should do.

The early reports this morning are that she's doing well. With a bit of luck, I might even make it in time to be with my family before my nephew is born. For now, as I soar above the Rockies en route to Denver, and then to home, I am eminently thankful, proud, and  blessed to have such a fine sister.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Politics and Creativity

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Fascinating conversation below between Bill O'Reilly, and Parks and Recreation star Rob Lowe. The two discuss the nettlesome intersection between politics and creativity, and make interesting observations about how actors and artists tend to lean left.

I've often wondered whether there is also a connection between political affiliation and creativity among authors. I also see similar trends among academics and lawyers.

I'm not convinced that there's an innate correlation between any of the bifurcations, except to say that Hollywood certainly has its political favorites. Naturally, O'Reilly and Lowe don't offer any solid conclusions, but the clip is an interesting discussion all the same.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Who Killed Osama?

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The National Journal has a fascinating breakdown of last night's covert operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.

[Link]

Credit for the deed goes to Seal Team 6, the certifiably badass special ops kill team that formally does not exist.

Seal Team 6? What Seal Team 6?

Making the strike all the more interesting is the fact that President Obama not only ordered the kill, but also saw it "unfold in real time."

Update (05/04/11): Turns out, Obama didn't see a damn thing live.

Still, the skill of the soldiers assigned to the mission speaks for itself. And maybe the technology involved in the mission is legendary too. It is certainly the stuff of video games.

 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Obama's Speech on Osama Bin Laden's Death

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In brief, President Obama delivered a tremendous address tonight, delivering the news to America and the world that Osama Bin Laden was killed at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces. Think Call of Duty Black Ops, but 'for realz'.

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I can't emphasize enough that tonight's news really transcends politics. And accordingly, from our unabashedly antagonistic corner of the web, kudos to President Obama for his leadership in authorizing the U.S. mission that ultimately killed Osama Bin Laden. President Obama's speech appears in full below:

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda — an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

END 11:44 P.M. EDT

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Update: Former President George W. Bush released the following statement on Osama Bin Laden's death:

Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network that attacked America on September 11, 2001. I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. They have our everlasting gratitude. This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.

There's celebration across the United States tonight, from Washington, D.C., to Crawford, TX. Again, it's a wonderful night for America, and an amazing victory for America's armed forces and intelligence community.

Yours truly is especially proud to be an American this evening.

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

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OBLI began college in the fall of 2001, only days after Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States on September 11.

(See more of my 9/11 memories here.)

Tonight, it feels very much like closer knowing that the Al Qaeda mastermind died at the hands of American forces after a lowly missile strike.

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I suppose it isn't terribly 'Christian' of me to celebrate the death of an individual. But it nonetheless brings me great joy to know that someone so evil, and so abjectly wicked, met his end as a result of the same violence he wrought upon others.

Somehow it seems appropriate to embed the performance of our National Anthem outside of Buckingham Palace, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The clip demonstrates that nearly ten years ago the world stood in solidarity with the United States of America.

Tonight, the world surely stands with us again, celebrating the end of an evil man.

May God continue to bless our Country, and free peoples around the world, struggling against the tides of terrorism.

A Different Take on the WHCD: Seth Meyers Really Wasn't Funny

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I've had time to review the footage from last night's White House Correspondents Dinner down in Washington, DC. And despite the glowing reviews, in all honesty, Seth Meyers really wasn't that funny.

The goat of the evening was easily Donald Trump and his 'birther' implosion earlier this week. But even while it's hard to beat a horse dead, Meyers and the President managed to do just that.

I should add from the outset that I'm generally a fan of Seth Meyers on SNL. But last's performance came across as halting, and a nervous. Maybe having trained snipers in the room prompts insecurity in even the strongest comedian? Regardless, the entire schtick seemed forced. And even more damning, Meyers really wasn't very funny.

By contrast, President Obama wasn't bad. His delivery was well-timed, and most of the jokes were funny. Given that the President performed for a friendly crowd (e.g., the White House Press corp), it was fairly easy for the President to feel at ease.

I'm open to different opinions, but if you have a differing opinion, you're probably wrong. So, please, decide for yourself. Video highlights are below. HT: Politico.

 

The GOP Front-Runner

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Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol dubbed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee the GOP front-runner over the weekend.

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While Kristol's assessment is a bit premature, it speaks to an unmistakable consensus among GOP stalwarts: the Republican nomination is Huckabee's to lose.